charter schools, school choice, charter school performance, innovation


This article argues that a paradox exists for U.S. charter schools in that they enjoy much support and advocacy despite 30 years of lackluster performance. This disconnect has serious consequences for families and students in charter schools that are underperforming. Of the 3 million students in charter schools across the country today, as many as 1 million of them on average are in schools that perform worse than comparable traditional public schools. This article traces the history of charter schools and compares the mixed performance of charters to the strong support from researchers, advocates and funders, making the case that neoliberals are more effectively presenting their case for innovation, freedom of choice and liberty than the social justice advocates who oppose charters. In light of this paradox, the article proposes an alternative role for charters that would build on and strengthen their original role as laboratories of innovation.